For young children, there's the HABITOT Children's Museum (2065 Kittredge St., Berkeley, 510-647-1111), featuring prize-winning exhibits, art programs, multicultural performances, and even a toy-lending library. ... Animal-loving kids will want to check out the Lindsay Wildlife Museum (1931 First Ave., Walnut Creek, 925-935-1978), which affords visitors close encounters with eagles, owls, bobcats, opossums, snakes, turtles, and other animals once treated at LWH's wildlife hospital but deemed unreleasable. ... Junior scientists will enjoy tinkering at the Exploratorium (Palace of Fine Arts, 3601 Lyon St., San Francisco, 415-561-0399). The ornate Gilded-Age architecture of the 1916 Palace of Fine Arts clashes with the hands-on, family-friendly exhibits inside, but that's the charm of this science museum. ... Kids (big and small) seeking retro fun will enjoy Lucky Ju Ju Pinball & Neptune Beach Amusement Museum (713 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda, 510-205-9793). Juju is magic, which may be needed for pinball wizardry. This pinball palace features Evel Knievel, Lady Luck, Mars Trek — and Wizard, among many others, along with rotating art exhibits. ... Nascent propellerheads will be thrilled with the USS Hornet Museum (Pier 3, Alameda Pt., Alameda, 510-521-8448). The carrier, which played a crucial part in WWII, recovered the Apollo 11 and 12 astronauts in 1969, and has been docked here since 1998. ... If art or history is your thing, the Bay Area has plenty to offer. In the East Bay, the Berkeley Art Museum (2625 Durant Ave., Berkeley, 510-642-0808) is top art dog. In 1963 abstract painter Hans Hoffman donated 45 paintings and $250,000 to the university; in 1970 the striking, modernist structure opened. With a collection of 14,000 objects, and its influential, experimental MATRIX program, BAM is a preeminent university museum. ... Also on campus is the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology (Kroeber Hall, Bancroft Way at College Ave., Berkeley, 510-643-7649). In 1911, the Lowie Museum opened in San Francisco; resident there was Ishi, last of the Yahi Indians, who helped anthropologists record his tribe's lost culture until his 1916 death. Nowadays, PAHMA, now renamed and relocated to Berkeley, with almost 4 million objects, is the West's oldest, largest anthropological museum. ... Focusing on one eminent human tribe is the Judah L. Magnes Museum (2911 Russell St., Berkeley, 510-549-6950), preserving tradition for the Bay Area's large Jewish population. Its 8,000-plus ceremonial and decorative items and extensive library offer ample material for enjoyment, enrichment, and study. ... The African American Museum and Library at Oakland (659 14th St., Oakland, 510-637-0200) memorializes black history. Founded in 1946, AAMLO houses an archive of 160 collections of diaries, newspapers, oral history, and video recordings focusing on the Bay Area and Northern California; a 12,000-volume reference library; and a museum featuring changing exhibits. ... The Oakland Museum of California (1000 Oak St., Oakland, 510-238-2200), an East Bay cultural institution since 1969, specializes in art, history, and the natural sciences of California. Recently, a new curator has helped contemporize its exhibits while the museum undergoes a major renovation to expand its collection (the Art and History galleries are closed until 2009). ... For quiet art viewing, try the Mills College Art Museum (5000 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, 510-430-2164), focusing on women artists and curators — pretty radical for 1925! (Males are now included, by the way.) Well-installed, thoughtful, eclectic shows, and free admission. ... Moving across the bay, a cluster of museums awaits in downtown San Francisco. The Museum of the African Diaspora (685 Mission St., San Francisco, 415-358-7200) traces the breakup and scattering of African blacks across space and time with exhibits, programs, and events. The web site features additional photos, transcripts, and recorded voices. ... The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (151 Third St., San Francisco, 415-357-4000), established in 1935, moved into its distinctive striped brick building in 1995 and began a period of exciting programming and collecting. Ensuing high-profile exhibitions like the Frida Kahlo retrospective have fixed it at the center of the city's art scene. ... Across Third Street lies Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (701 Mission St., San Francisco, 415-978-2700), founded in 1993 in order to serve as a populist alternative to the gallery-museum system. It has morphed into a venue for new-media conceptualism, a good place to see what's shaking in visual art before it migrates to SFMOMA. ... A bit west, in Civic Center, lies the Asian Art Museum (200 Larkin St., San Francisco, 415-581-3500) inside the refurbished old Main Library building. Opened in Golden Gate Park in 1966 to house the huge collection of Chicagoan Avery Brundage, the museum, now housing 17,000 artworks, moved to the more accessible site in 2003. ... But the de Young Museum (Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., San Francisco, 415-750-3600) made good use of the Asian's old site. Founded in 1895, the museum moved in 2005 into a new, enlarged, copper-clad showcase befiting its extensive collections of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; Mesoamerican, Central, and South American artifacts; African art; and Oceanic art, particularly the thrilling, spooky Friede Collection. ... Finally, moving west, to Land's End, we conclude with the Palace of the Legion of Honor (Lincoln Park, 34th Ave. & Clement St., San Francisco, 415-750-3600). Commemorating America's war dead, this 1924 duplicate of the Paris Légion d'Honneur is the last of San Francisco's old-style museums, but it boasts an unbeatable view of the Golden Gate, along with collections of ancient art, illustrated books, European painting and decorative art, fine prints, and Rodin bronzes.
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